Family Research – English, Scottish and Irish Genealogy

23/5/2006

Experience of life and death of a Confederate soldier

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This roguish, dashing gentleman is my ancestor, Rufus Smith. Rufus fought with an Arkansas militia unit, cavalry. 18 months after he left for battle, Rufus disappeared. My family and I are still trying to locate records on him.

YREKA — Through the haze of smoke a shot rang out, dropping me to the ground. I was dead.

And I had Joe Allison and Hunter Cogle, two men I now call friends, to thank for it.

Allow me to explain myself.

It all started in the last few weeks of April. My publisher, Rod Dowse, had told me about the Civil War reenactment that the Yreka Rotary sponsored last year. He had mentioned that they were putting together another reenactment. I told myself then and there that I was going to write about the reenactments. See, I love history. The Civil War, also known as the War of Southron Independence, is something that I love to study. It means a lot to me, since members of my family, among them a man named Rufus Smith, fought in it. Rufus was a Confederate. He lived in northern Arkansas and, when war broke out, Rufus joined a militia and went off to war. Some 18 months later, Rufus Smith vanished. Some family think that he might have fallen in with the likes of William Quantrill, and ended up dead. Or, like the mythic outlaw, Josey Wales, faded into West, hiding from family and foe alike.

I made arrangements with Joe Allison, to interview him about the Civil War reenactment. For two hours, Joe and I sat and talked, drinking juice and enjoying our conversation. Joe picked up on my knowledge of history. At one point, he has this gleam in his eye.

“You know, I have this great idea,” he said. “Why don’t you suit up and play with us? Come and see the elephant.”

See the elephant. That is an old term of seeing war for the first time.

I thought about it. “Sure. I’ll run it by my editor and publisher. They say yes, then, the game’s afoot.”

Joe smiled and saluted me, by raising a glass of cranberry juice. “Good.”

Both Rod and John Diehm, my interim editor, felt that the experience would make for a great story. I called Joe and I told him. Now, Joe wanted me to be with his green-jacketed Sharpshooters one day, then, the Confederates the next. However, I could feel Rufus’ spirit telling me otherwise.

I would cast my lot with the Confederates.

Joe told me to contact a good friend of his, Hunter Cogle. I e-mailed Hunter and a day or so later, he called me. We talked for two hours, discussing various aspects of the War and the history of the 1st Texas Brigade. After talking to Hunter, I knew that siding with the Confederates was a good choice.

Politically, I am a Libertarian. I am against a big, centralized government that is invasive and way too authoritative. So, supporting the Union goes against every fiber of my being.

Besides, I always thought I looked good in gray.

Friday morning, I made my way through the reenactment camps, taking pictures of the school kids as they were talking with the reenactors. I laughed as I heard one Federal reenactor tell a boy that, no, Lincoln’s White House did not have “facilities.”

The Reenactors of the American Civil War (www.racw.org) are doing a great service to the education system, by presenting living history to school kids. To me, it is vital that history is taught and thoroughly taught. Those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it — a sobering fact that nags me every time I look at the news. I feel that if the RACW reaches out to at least a few boys and girls, and gets them interested in learning more about the Civil War, and history in general, then the men and women of the RACW have done something great. Aside from being the most bloodiest war in our history — it is the most misunderstood.

I made my way over to the Confederate camp and met Hunter and Major Don Cooper. The Major commands the RACW’s Confederates and Coop is a great guy. Don and Hunter made sure that I took my safety test, so that I would be ready for the battle. Yes, the guns the reenactors use are real. The bayonets are sharp. Yes, something can go wrong if a person does not know he is doing. Beeker, who assists Don and Hunter in commanding the 1st Texas, did his best to get that point across to me.

Oh, I did my best to understand. The last thing I wanted to happen was have my hand blown off due to my own stupidity.

I spent the evening, talking with the Confederates. Bo and Ben, who deck out their Confederate uniforms with Scottish ensigns. Ben carries with him a wicked looking basket-hilt claymore. The Confederate military was highly diverse, contrary to what some have said. Blacks, Hispanics, Jews, Irish, Scots, Indians and Asians served together, mostly, unlike the Union forces, who segregated their troops.

There was tall, lanky Private Henry. A rather likable chap whose black hat sported a peacock’s feather. Tucker, Don’s son, who is a Zouave — those were the soldiers, on both sides, who wore those flashy, baggy uniforms. The Zouaves were very nasty when it come to combat, especially hand-to-hand. I heard a lot of stories — however, I cannot repeat them here.

Talking with Confederates, I found some kindred spirits. Many of them do not care for big government and the current state of American politics. They believe that the government should stay out of people’s private lives. The more I talked with the Confederates the more that I realized that I had a lot in common with them.

I found myself becoming friends with these guys.

Oh, I had friends on the other side too.

Like many did, some 140-plus years ago.

Aside from Colonel Joe Allison, I was becoming friends with Sergeant-Major Daniel Baldwin, artillery officer Major Don La Porte, Lieutenant Bryan Duncan of the Sharpshooters.

The Sergeant-Major, upon learning that I would be fighting with the Johnny Rebs, informed me with a wicked smile, “I’ll be making a special bullet for you. It’ll have your name on it.”

I had great talks with those guys and sincerely liked them.

Here I was on the opposite side.

Saturday afternoon. The rain had taken the edge off of the heat. The air smelled crisp, clean, fresh after the rain. A cool breeze blew through the trees. I stepped out of a tent, wearing Confederate gray. The pants were a little snug and I had to adjust the suspenders a number of times. The jacket was a little tight but still fine. Beeker tossed me a cap. Private Henry gave me last-minute instructions on handling my Springfield rifle. Beeker gave my a quick course on shoulder arms and standing at parade rest. Marching. I checked my belt, one pouch for paper cartridges, the other for the percussion caps. Bayonet was in its scabbard.

I was ready.

I was standing at attention as the Major and Hunter approached. This was going to be the second battle of the day. The first, had been a victory for the Confederates. When the smoke had cleared, the field was a sea of Federal blue.

Now, it was our turn.

“The Yanks put on a good show, dying like that,” Hunter told us. “I want to see us put on a good show for the crowd.”

Major Cooper told us the scenario. It was rather straight-forward. As with the original battles of Spotsylvania Courthouse, Federal forces would storm the earthworks erected by the Confederates. In some of those charges, the Union troopers were pushed back — but at a high cost of Confederate lives.

That would be the case in this battle.

“1st Texas, I want you boys to die and die well,” Major Cooper barked.

“Take some Billy Yanks with you too,” added Hunter.

A few minutes later, I was hunkered down behind our wooden barricades, alongside Private Henry and Tuck Cooper. Tuck and Henry told that me it would be up to me to decide on my death.

So. It was like playing cowboys and Indians, running around falling dead when you heard someone go bang-bang!

However, the stakes were upped, since we had some explosives set up some fifteen feet behind us. Blackpowder charges loaded up with dirt, moss and some other items. Captain Jack, an Alabama artillery officer, is a demolitionist in real life, and is the RACW’s pyrotechnic wizard.

I repeated a number of things to myself. First, we had to steer clear of the cannons some 80 feet. Second, never aim the weapon directly at a person and always never fire if someone was closer than 20 or 25 feet. If people were playing dead in front of you, always aim up.

Hunter gave the order to load rifles.

I clamped my teeth on the paper cartridge’s flattened section, tearing it off. Emptied the black powder down the barrel. Crimped the percussion cap and placed it underneath the half-cocked hammer.

Wellington’s 95th Rifles, the Chosen Men, could fire 4 or 5 rounds a minute, some accounts say, firing and loading, firing and loading. Both Union and Confederate troops did the same thing too.

Lets just say that I could not have been a Chosen Man.

Union cannons roared.

A cloud of gunpowder, dirt, and moss mushroomed behind us.

A few Texans fell. Including Tuck.

Federal firepower, helped by the Berdan’s Sharpshooters, sliced through our ranks, like a knife cutting silk.

“Charge,” Hunter commanded. “1st Texas, over the barricade!”

Then Hunter went down.

Beeker, our company captain, drew his saber, waving it. “Move, 1st Texas! Remember the Alamo!”

Screaming at the top of our lungs, what was left of the 1st Texas climbed over the barricade, throwing ourselves at the Yank onslaught.

A tree branch smacked into Private Henry’s head — he used that moment to play dead. I soon found myself standing with a Beeker and a few other Texans. We aimed our rifles, fired.

“Fix bayonets!”

For safety’s sake, we are not allowed to actually fix bayonets on our rifles. Instead, we assumed the bayonet charge stance and awaited Beeker’s last command

I saw a wave of Federal troops about to hit us, like a tsunami.

“Charge,” shouted Beeker before he died.

Like a berserker of old, I charged the Federals.

Until I heard that gunshot.

My body now tells me that I maybe went a bit too far with my theatrics. I spun about, throwing myself down on the ground. I know that I bounced at least once. I banged up my knee. Did something to my lower back.

But, I had fun doing it.

I laid there, staring up at the sky, listening to the battle as it slowed to a halt. When it was declared over, I found myself looking a green-jacketed Sharpshooter, leaning forward, one hand extended.

Lieutenant Bryan Duncan, Company F, Berdan’s Sharpshooters.

Looking down at me, he smiled. “I came here to find my brother,” he said. He hauled me to my feet. “I found him.”

We shook hands, clapped each other on the back, then there was a brotherly hug. I saluted him, and fell back in with 1st Texas.

The 1st Texas had a small gathering at Beeker’s house, where we ate and talked about battle and what would happen the next day. We then headed for Miner Street, where the Civil War Ball was being held. Now dressed in 21st Century civilian garb, I ran into Sergeant-Major Baldwin, smoking a cigar. He smiled at me. “Heard you found that bullet.”

Joe Allison came up to me, grinning. “See the elephant, did you?”

I nodded and shook his hand. “I did. And, I’ll be back tomorrow.”

Back I was. It was the last battle of the day. There I was, again with Private Henry. Ben was not far away, adjusting his Scots headgear. Bo was holding the colors, Major Cooper at his side. Hunter and Beeker stood near a big tree, discussing the scenario.

The battle was soon in high gear. Bill Winterburn, a friend of mine, was not far from my position. Private Henry was already dead. So was Tuck and Ben — Ben, however, was recording things on a digital video camera. Major Cooper took a hit. Beeker was dead. Hunter took a few troops with him and crossed the barricade. He then gave order for us to join them.

There were not many of us. And, my ammo situation was bad. I had one cap left. That was it. After Hunter gave the order to fire, I knew that it was time for me to die. Hunter had us make one more charge and charge I did — right into enemy gunfire. Not learning anything from the day before, I threw myself to the ground, making my death look good as possible.

I also cradled the rifle carefully. It was a loaner from Coop. The last thing i wanted was to have him made at me.

So, I laid there. The Sharpshooters and the 72nd New York made their assault on barricades, still held by a few 1st Texans and some from the 42nd Virginia. The 72nd’s lieutenant was hit, falling not far from me.

It got quiet for a second and I heard that Lieutenat Duncan had fallen.

Something hit me. What Bryan had said to me the day before, about being brothers. Sure. It was jokingly. But, I thought back to “Gettysburg,” when General Lewis Armistead, played by Richard Jordan — who would later die from a brain tumor — reacted to the news that his good friend, Union General Winfield Scott Hancock, had been hit by a bullet.

“No, not both of us! Not all of us!”

That was the tragedy of the War.

source-Siskiyou Daily News

(http://www.siskiyoudaily.com/articles/2006/05/22/news/doc4472390155558300016144.txt)

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